Thursday, June 17, 2004

Is it Real or is it Memorex?

Ten-year-old Merav had been practicing for weeks. At last, the big performance was upon us. The event was the conclusion of a year’s study program on “roots.” Every child in Merav’s class had collected a family “song” and they had creatively stitched them together with some brief narrative thread for an evening of fifth-grade theater.

I came armed, as I always do in these situations, with my video camera. We reckon that, since the kids were born, we have documented over 78 hours of our lives on tape.

The tapes are not just for posterity, mind you. As soon as we’re done with a video, we copy it and send it off to the grandparents. It’s a necessary part of the modern trans-global family. And in Israel, with so many expatriate families far from their old homes, we are hardly alone.

Sometimes, we even watch the old tapes ourselves. It’s a lot cleaner, a whole bunch more wholesome fun than the latest Mary Kate and Ashley adventure in Manhattan or Tahiti or some other exotic location.

So, at Merav’s performance, I started off by dutifully taping snatches of the other children’s songs. 20 seconds of a family tradition sung in French; a 10 second snippet of kids at a seder table singing in Ladino, the secret Jewish language of Spanish and North African Jews.

I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing when to turn the camera on and off, so the resulting tape doesn’t drone on and on and on...forever.

When we got to Merav’s part, I hit the button to record. Or so I thought. When her group was done, for some reason I had a bad feeling. I rewound the tape, just to check.

Somehow I had switched the camera off just as she had started...and then back on again when she was done. As a result, I’d gotten lots of great footage of my feet, the back of someone’s head, and an overstuffed book bag. But none of Merav and her friends singing her Nana’s sing-song family rhyme (click here to read it).

My first thought was panic. Would Merav be upset? Would the grandparents realize that the only performance that was missing was their darling granddaughter? And: how could I be so stupid – I mean, my only job for the night was to press the button. How did I mess up? Would anyone hold me responsible?

It was more than that, though. After so many years of taping, if something's not there, it’s as if it never happened. Once our camcorder broke and had to stay in the shop for several months while the repairmen were trying to figure out the problem. We actually have to rely on memory to recall any events that happened during that time. Imagine that (well, we couldn't).

We definitely weigh out on the Memorex side of real.

Tape also has an uncanny effect of only capturing the good times. It makes sense – who wants to sit through a half hour of a kid kvetching or a baby refusing to nurse? If you watched our tape, you’d think we were the most well adjusted family on the planet.

Tantrums are resolved with the flick of the pause switch. It’s even less realistic than a least there they take a full 22 minutes to solve all of Ross and Rachel’s latest problems.

But being an obsessive videographer also means missing out on some of life itself. We have lots of tape of Imma dancing with the kids at their various kindergarten parties. But where’s Abba? Fully immersed in living for the moment? Nope...that’s him behind the camera, concentrating hard on how all this will look in the future.

I once heard a radio play written by a writer named Carol Adorjan. The play was called “Portions Mechanically Reproduced.” In it, a couple has recorded all the highlights of their life on audio tape. When they have a fight over the veracity of a particular incident and whether the tape has captured the truth, the wife leaves. Her husband simply edits her segments out and replaces her with the event as he remembers it.

We’ve never gone that far, but the first thought that occurred to me when I missed Merav’s performance was: can we have them do it again?

That would have been nice six years ago. Shortly after Aviv’s brit mila (circumcision ceremony), our apartment was broken into. We got robbed big time – a lot of jewelry and electronic equipment...including our camcorder which contained the original tape of the ceremony and speeches afterward.

I was devastated, then as now. But there was no way I could ask the mohel (or Aviv for that matter) to please “do it again” for the camera.

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone among the camcorders on Merav’s big night. At least three other parents were eagerly taping their sons and daughters performing such old world family classics as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Yellow Submarine.”

Ultimately, I was able to copy a version from our friend Reba. So what if the center of attention in the performance is not Merav but another girl. At least we got it.

Still, I wonder if I’d be better off going light on the tape for awhile. Maybe I’d be healthier and happier if I tried to break my video nicotine habit and participated a little more fully in life.

After an evening of Merav and her classmates’ roots, it seems high time I get back to mine. Yes, I could do it. It wouldn’t be that hard.

Now, all I have to do is convince Jody to get behind the camera.

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